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UN Water conference – The power of Nature-based Solutions

EcoShape and the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO-TIO) hosted “The Power of Nature-based Solutions”, a side event at the UN Water Conference on 23 March

The event’s aim was to highlight the potential for Nature-based Solutions (NBS) in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and to identify potential barriers and enablers in implementing them.

The event brought together a diverse group of participants, including NBS practitioners, institutional representatives and other stakeholders from around the world. Through panel discussions, they explored the obstacles and opportunities associated with implementing NBS and shared best practices and lessons learned from successful projects.

Nature-based Solutions

Nature-based Solutions refer to the use of natural systems and processes to address environmental challenges, such as climate change, biodiversity loss and water management. NBS have gained recognition as sustainable alternatives to traditional infrastructure that use natural landscapes to improve water security.

The benefits of NBS for water management are numerous. For example, they can enhance water quality, regulate water flow, reduce the risk of floods and droughts and improve the resilience of water systems to climate change. Additionally, NBS can provide social and economic benefits and contribute to biodiversity protection. However, despite the inclusion of NBS in international agreements like the European Green Deal and the UN Global Biodiversity Framework, their implementation so far remains limited.

Partners for Water and Nature-Based Solutions

The Partners for Water programme places a strong emphasis on Nature-based Solutions (NBS) and encourages their implementation at scale through early-stage infrastructure projects. This approach has resulted in several successful projects, as well as many lessons learned. To shed light on this, Dennis van Peppen, Lead Water Programmes at RVO, joined the panel discussion where he shared insights into the challenges and solutions that the projects supported by the Partners for Water programme have faced.

Panel discussions

The panel discussions featured NBS practitioners and institutional representatives who shared their experiences and insights on implementing NBS, including representatives from the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, World Wildlife Fund, the US army Corps of Engineers, Invest International, Partners for Water (part of RVO), Deltares, Van Oord and Arcadis. They covered a range of topics related to NBS implementation, including governance and institutional adoption, project management and monitoring and identifying barriers and enablers. Jane Madgwick, Wetlands International said: “We are in no doubt that if we are going to move quickly towards a safe and just world, it is necessary to put NBS first amongst the options for infrastructure. The best way to do that is in this kind of collaboration”. Thanks to the synergetic environment, the panelists were able share their successes and challenges with each other, enabling knowledge sharing and mutual learning.

Lifting the barriers for implementing Nature-based Solutions

André van Ommeren, from RVO: “As we learned this afternoon, it is all about commitment, working together over sectors, integration, and for that you need different partners, standing here on the stage…we are looking forward to the future and bringing NBS to the next stage.” Reflecting on an inspiring discussion, the key insights for implementing NBS are summarised below:

  • Involve the multi-stakeholders throughout the whole process and bring them together around the table. From the private sector, financiers and investors, to contractors, locals and governments.
  • Actively involve the community and local stakeholders by including them in the decision-making process, creating awareness of NBS’s valuable benefits, asking for their local knowledge and giving them ownership of the NBS. They will have to maintain the NBS in the future.
  • Make the stakeholders aware of the different (in-)direct benefits coming from the implementation of NBS and bring forward the economic benefits of the case.
  • Understand and take into account the different systems that are involved, like the biophysical, local and institutional systems.
  • Aim for an iterative process: learn and improve through implementation, doing the work and evaluation. When there is no capacity for a large project, start with a small project and develop the bigger ones over time.
  • Aim for long-term benefits and take into account the maintenance and monitoring of the NBS.
  • Put time and effort into capacity building amongst governments and local stakeholders. Not only to create awareness and knowledge on what NBS can deliver and create an enabling political environment for embedding NBS, but also to train them to operate and maintain the NBS.
  • Connect across different disciplines, sectors and partners. It is all about collaboration and working together.

Game changer for achieving SDGs

Lara Muller, from Invest International, described the collective thought of the panel discussions clearly: “If there is one thing that NBS also today proved is that it is all about collaboration and multi-disciplinary partnership in order to make it happen. On the ground but also on a higher institutional level. Having financiers, technical people, everybody with the heart in the right place in order to make this happen.” Maintaining this collaborative atmosphere, Nature-based Solutions might be the game-changer in achieving Sustainable Development Goals.

During the ‘The Power of Nature-based Solutions’ event, a promising coalition was formed for mainstreaming NBS. Read more about the collaborating organisations and their promised commitments here.

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